Tips for Traveling to Varanasi
A trip to the holy city of Varanasi is a must when visiting India. It is one of the oldest and holiest places in the country and an experience like no other. Although the city can be extremely chaotic if you keep your wits about you women can travel safely, even alone. Sunrise and sunset must be seen from a boat on the Ganges. It is then you can witness both the morning and evening rituals and even cremations. Be sure to be extremely respectful when in front of the cremations ghats (steps) as there are families saying goodbye to their loved ones. It is forbidden to take photos and even if your boatman says it is okay- it isn’t. He is only looking for a bigger tip.
You can hire a car or motorized rickshaw to take you to the ghats at the Ganges and there a boat ride is easily found and negotiated. Be sure to buy “flower lights” from some of the children selling them before you board. Once on the boat you can light them and send them afloat with prayers for family and friends.
A side trip to Sarnath can easily be arranged with a driver through your hotel. Here you can see the birthplace of Buddhism and a descendant of the actual tree where Buddha became enlightened.
If you are traveling alone or even in a pair- do what you should always do and be cautious of anyone being overly friendly or overly helpful. Many locals warned me of people dressed in religious garb trying to swindle people out of money.
The best advice for women going to any part of India outside of the beach resorts- stay covered up. Modesty goes a long way in India so skip the shorts and tanks and wear cotton tees and long skirts. You’ll find you will garner much less unwanted attention and as always when traveling, you should respect your host country’s culture.